Interviewed by David Felix
Date: February 24th, 2005
Bass player, guitarist, singer, song writer, producer and most recently, father… this guy can
and has just about done it all. Since his departure from his first nationally recognized band, DOKKEN, Jeff Pilson has become one of the most recognizable names in the music industry…
and he is showing NO signs of slowing down. After spending most of 2004 on the road with his band WAR & PEACE in support of the latest studio album "The Walls Have Eyes", Jeff has been busy preparing for the release of the upcoming WAR & PEACE LIVE CD as well as being involved with several other projects like the HOLLYWOOD ALLSTARZ, FOREIGNER, and Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp. In between ALL this, he is producing, writing, and still making time to play “daddy” to his 8-month-old daughter Olivia and be a husband to his wife Ravinder. Whew! Now that’s a schedule!
Fortunately for me, though, Jeff was kind enough to take out just a “little” more time to sit down and talk with me about everything he has been involved with as well as his plans for the future.
First off, I just like to thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule to do this.
No problem. We just may hear some occasional “dah dah dah dah dah” from our baby.
That's fine, how is your daughter?
Oh, she's doing great!
How old is she now?
A little over eight-months.
That's great, and she's your first?
My very first.
Congratulations! So what's it like being a father?
Absolutely wonderful! This is a great time in life for this to happen. I love it.
Well first, how did everything go at rock 'n roll fantasy camp?
It was great, what an experience. A heavy-duty experience, but it's kind of hard to explain. Fortunately, there's going to be a two-hour special on The Learning Channel this October about it. It did get quite a bit of coverage but I think this Learning Channel special will be informative. There were 10 counselors. Myself, Bruce Kulick, Elliot Easton from THE CARS, Jack Blades from NIGHT RANGER/DAMN YANKEES, Kelly Keagy from NIGHT RANGER, Jerry Renino who plays bass for THE MONKEES, Gary Burr, a songwriter from Nashville, Simon Kirke from BAD COMPANY and FREE…so you get the idea. Just great, great people, and then we had guests like Dickey Betts from THE ALLMAN BROTHERS came and we jammed with him. John Anderson from YES came; we did a couple of songs. Then, of course, Roger Daltrey was involved and it was just an amazing situation. We got to play with some great people; it was a fun hang, really hard, intense work, but very rewarding and just a great time.
What did you do at the camp itself?
There were 70 campers there. People that paid a substantial amount of money to be there, actually, and we organize them into 10 bands...one for each counselor. Then, the counselors would run them through rehearsals for the next couple of days and then they competed at the House of Blues on Monday night in a show where we did one song on our own, then one with Roger Daltrey. So it was very, very fun, very interesting and such a great situation. My band was wonderful. They were just great, great people and worked really hard. They really wanted to do their best. So consequently, it was very musically rewarding as well.
So let's go way back now to a young Jeff Pilson. What made you want to become a musician and was there any particular point in your life where you said, "This is it, this is what I want to do."
Well, I think the first one of those moments was when I saw THE BEATLES on Ed Sullivan. I don't think it was a conscious thought like "I want to be musician when I grow up." kind of thing as much as like "Wow, I want to do that.” I mean, it took me several years before I did. I just don't think I ever lost track of that because I started playing at 12 years old, and I went right back to that BEATLE moment...so that's it.
How supportive was your family and was there anyone in particular who was the most encouraging to you at the time?
Well, my parents were always kind of typical in that they would always say things like,” Well, you gotta have something to fall back on. You can't just do music.” ...which of course, I ignored.(laughs) But they did except it when I finally said, "This is what I have to do.” They understood, well...they accepted, and they've been supportive ever since. But, I think my big sister, Nancy, who is 10 1/2 years older than me was really, really supportive. She and her husband were extremely supportive to me and even kept me alive there for a while paying the bills and such, so she was the single most supportive person.
What kind of "odd jobs" did you hold when you first began in the pursuit of your dream?
Not that many, strangely enough, because I was always able to make a living playing music. The only time was for one week where I had a job drilling concrete at a furniture store and I absolutely detested it. It was a horrible job. Other than that, I managed a music store when I was in high school from the time I was 15 to the time I was 18. It was a very small music store in my hometown. But other than that, I was able to stay alive from just playing gigs.
Did you ever have a slump and actually consider a career other than music?
Certainly not before, I made it. Since things sorted changed in the early 90's, I think all of us had to start looking. Not necessarily away from music, but what different parts of music are we going to be involved with as our performing careers start to wind down. I've thought a lot about that and that's what led me into producing. I've done some jingle work, and I love that. I love of voice over work. I'd love to do film and television work, but it's all pretty much music at the end of the day. I can't imagine being very good at anything other than music.
If you could take back one thing in your life, anything! Even a five second action or event, what would it be and why?
Wow, that's a tough one because it's something I would never really think about because it's not going to happen. So...I don't know.
What was the first album you bought with your own money? Not “owned" as in giving to you as a gift, but one you actually saved for yourself?
Ummm...I think it might have been a DEL SHANNON record.
What was the first concert you ever went to and what do you recall about the experience?
That I remember pretty well. It was called the "Milwaukee Pop Fest" and it was in the summer of 1970. It had THE BEACH BOYS, TOMMY ROE, IDES OF MARCH who had the song "Vehicle," and just all the big pop bands of the time. And I remember THE BEACH BOYS blew my mind. To me, they sounded just like the record... oh my God, it was so great! It had a pretty strong effect. It was at a stadium so it felt real exciting. It was outdoors and, like I said, I just remember THE BEACH BOYS sounding so good. The song "I Get Around" was one of my all-time favorite songs, so when they broke into that, I think I was in youthful orgasm.
Now your first commercially successful band, DOKKEN. How excited were you to be a part of something like that and as the years when on it, when did you realize you wanted more?
Well, it was great. The thing I don't think people can quite see about the DOKKEN situation from our point of view was to us, it felt great. I mean, we were enjoying ourselves and all that, but because we were such great friends with the guys from RATT, MOTLEY CRUE and QUIET RIOT, it felt like we weren't nearly as successful. And DOKKEN was a building process. I mean we did finally build into a fairly successful act, but it was a slow build. We were the slower build of all the acts I just mentioned. So I don't think we ever felt as successful as you might think. As exciting as it was, it wasn't like it was overwhelmingly exciting because we were very hungry. There was a lot more we had to accomplish. So, I honestly think as much as I wanted to do other things for my own creative potential, that there was a lot of unfinished business with the band. And I don't think I realized that until shortly before the band broke up. Then, of course, it became impossible. The morale within the band was just too disjointed to be productive, so... we went our separate ways. It's funny, being on the inside was a whole lot different than watching it from the outside.
I'm sure...as with anything.
You've broken through the mold of being categorized into just one specific musical position. Your talents extend from bassist to singer to guitarist to songwriter to producer...the list goes on and on. And moreover, you're a success at anything you set your mind to. What drives you and gives you such a positive attitude to be as accomplished as you are?
Well, first of all, thank you. But you know what I think it is? It's just a genuine passion for music. I just really, really love music. It's always been very magical to me and after this week and fantasy camp, it makes me appreciate it even more... which I will. But I still think in general I appreciate it and I am very grateful for what I get to do. And I just love doing it and in fact, when I don't love doing something is when I either distance myself or choose not to do it. I think the secret is stay passionate about things you do.
You've been involved in a lot of projects over the years. MCCAULEY-SCHENKER GROUP, DIO, your own band, WAR & PEACE, and, obviously, DOKKEN just to name a few; Which project did you find most challenging and why?
Well, in some ways, when I toured live with MSG we did an acoustic tour. It was just Michael, Robin McCauley, and myself and we just hit the road and played acoustically for people. And in some ways, because I was playing acoustic guitar on that, that was probably the most challenging because I was trying to learn Michael's parts perfectly and I only had about a day to learn the whole thing. They called me at the very last second so I had to really cram to learn this stuff...and learn it right, which was tricky. So that had to be the most challenging.
Of all the people you've performed with, who has inspired you most both as a musician and as a person?
I would say Ronnie Dio. Ronnie is just such an amazing talent and he sings amazing every single night and has for the past umpteen million years. For someone to have that strong a voice after all that time is just incredible and what I think most people don't realize about Ronnie is that he's just a great overall musician. He can play instruments and still has that great overall music sensibility. He's also a very, very dear friend. He's the best bandleader I've ever seen. He runs a tight ship but makes everyone feel very involved and I never felt like I was a "hired gun" with him. I always felt like I was part of the band even though he firmly is the leader. But he really knows how to bring the best out of people and he made it a very, very pleasant experience and, like I said, our friendship is still very strong to this day.
Yeah, I have to agree. I have met and interviewed Ronnie several times myself and he's always been just awesome.
He's a class act and he can be a mentor to anyone I think.
If you could work with any artist you haven't already worked with, who would it be and why?
Paul McCartney because that would just be the ultimate for me.
You've continued to work with your former DOKKEN band mate George Lynch and even put out an incredible album with him called Wicked Underground. What is your relationship with him and are there plans for anymore and LYNCH/PILSON projects?
First of all, we have a real good relationship. In fact, he was just over here yesterday. George and I are very, very close friends and I think our friendship is our number one connection. It really has evolved into a very important friendship to me. I mean we have a lot of history and we certainly work together well and love to work together. We always talk about how we'd love to do a LYNCH/PILSON record but at the same time, the way we view LYNCH/PILSON is more like a release for us. He's gotta work on his career right now and focus on what he wants to do with himself and I have to do that with myself. And I think when we find the time where we both can work it out we would love to do another LYNCH/PILSON record and hopefully this time at least a few shows.
So lets talk WAR & PEACE. The original lineup was guitarist Russ Parrish, drummer Ricky Parent, bassist Tommy Hendrix and yourself. Now that lineup has changed throughout the years. What every happened to the original band and who's in the band now?
Well, the original band folded in early 1992 when the whole alternative revolution happened. It was just one of those situations where we just couldn't get a deal and people started getting desperate, found other gigs and all that which is just a natural occurrence in those situations. In hindsight, and I don't know why we didn't think of this or our management didn't think of it, but we probably should have gotten an over seas deal because we probably could have gotten a good one and perhaps could have continued something from there. But, that's ok...everybody went their separate ways and actually I am still real close with everybody. I mean I just had dinner at Russ' a couple of months ago. I see Tommy all the time...well, Tommy's my partner in production and Ricky, as you know, is very sick right now...I don't know if you're aware of that ?
No, I wasn't aware at all.
Yeah, he has cancer and it's pretty harsh. But I am in contact with him and he's doing better so that's good. But again, it all just went the way of the alternative revolution. It was a great time and a wonderful band and the friendships there were very, very powerful but then, you know, a couple of years later DOKKEN ended up getting back together anyway and that worked out for the next few of years.
But I am very fortunate now in that the WAR & PEACE I have for live and to record our next record are just some great people. We have a guy by the name of Mitch Perry on guitars who is absolutely amazing. Our bass player is Brad Lang who can sing his butt off, plays great and is a wonderful guy with a great attitude. The drummer is Michael Frowen who played on the LYNCH/PILSON record and also on the WAR & PEACE record. Amazing musicians, dear, dear, dear friends...so I've got a lineup that I'm really excited about right now and we’re just finishing up this live album we’ve been working on which I am guessing will be coming out late spring or early summer. Then we are going to go right to work on a studio record and it’s going to be the whole band. We are going to write together as a band and play together as a band…so that’s going to be really fun.
You’re last studio release with the band, "The Walls Have Eyes", is a great album. It stays true to your roots but yet still has that more modern “hook” to it. What was it like going into the studio to record this album as oppose to your past releases with WAR & PEACE?
What was different about this one is I was a little more focused, I think. The last WAR & PEACE record I did, "Light At The End Of The Tunnel", I basically did it all by myself except for the guitar solos and the drums which James Kottak played. And that was a very fun experience, but I had
just gotten my studio at my house. So I didn’t really know a whole lot about how to run it and was kinda “winging it.” I mean, it’s a great studio but it was new to me then…that was 5 years ago.
This record I knew my studio much better and this record I actually did everything myself with the exception of one guitar solo and the drums. I even actually mixed it myself which I had never done before. So it was really fun but it was very focused because I was doing most of it myself and as much as I do love to collaborate with people and work with people. I love doing things on my own. It’s a wonderful thing. And I just felt really inspired during the whole record…it was a great experience. Of course, this next WAR & PEACE record I am going to do as a band, collaboratively, because I have a great group of guys and I think the chemistry is just right. But last time was a real trip because it was like really exploring your creative field of vision. It was a wonderful thing having the opportunity to do that and having a studio at home means that you are on your own schedule. So…it was a very enjoyable experience.
There are so many great tracks on the album. “Reflections,” ”Stranger in My Own Land,” ”You Haunt Me,” and “City in Flames” just to name a few. Was there any track, which you found to be more challenging than the others?
Ummm…Wow… I never really though of it like that. You know, the truth is it all pretty much flowed. It just came together. There really wasn’t any track where anything seemed to give me any noticeable problems and if it did, it probably wouldn’t have made it on the record. I’m getting more and more into thinking that sometimes you just have to face a challenge and deal with it but I am getting to the point where I believe that music should flow and come naturally. If it doesn’t, it’s probably not going to translate all that well. I’m finding that if a vocal melody, for example… if I’m having a hard time recording it, unless I really hear the melody in my head and I absolutely do not hear anything else, if it’s not coming together in the studio I generally change it to something that feels better. So, on this one, I can’t really say anything presented a ridiculous challenge. I think the biggest challenge was mixing because I had never mixed before. That was a real learning experience, but that was a different kind of challenge but also a very welcomed challenge because I learned so much.
Was there anyone who helped you with that along the way?
Not really. I primarily relied on years and years of experience just sitting in a studio watching other people. But no, I really didn’t have anyone come in that I could turn to and say, “Hey, am I doing this right or wrong?” I just used phrasing and listened on different systems to figure out how it sounded. (Laughs) So it was a great experience.
Is there any track on the CD, which has a little more meaning to you or hits closer to home?
I think in some way, “You Haunt Me” because it reminds me of my wife so much. “Strange in My Own Land” was written about the whole “9-11” experience and in fact was written very shortly after it. They all really meant a lot to me, though. I think also the song “The Shell” came to be a very special song.
Now you’ve just come off tour a couple of months ago with the band and, as you mentioned earlier, there’s a live CD set for release in late spring. Does that mean we can expect to see you guys on the road again any time soon?
I hope so. We’ll probably do a handful of shows this summer. I am also going to be doing some shows with FOREIGNER so it’s kinda going to go back and forth. The thing that’s cool with FOREIGNER is that it’s pretty sporadic based…more like a “weekend warrior” kind of thing. So there will be time to fit some WAR & PEACE stuff in there. It’s all going to depend on how long the studio record takes. I don’t really envision going out and doing a lot of shows until the next record is done.
So how did you get involved in the whole FOREIGNER thing?
A guy that I’m very good friends with and have been for years, Phil Carson, who manages Jason Bonham, coincidentally, and whom I had a lot of contact with during the ROCK STAR movie. He had called me up and asked me to do it.
Who’s actually in the band now?
Right now, a guy by the name of Chas West is singing, Mick Jones, of course, is on guitar, a guy by the name of Tom Gimbel is on sax and guitar and he also played keyboards for AEROSMITH last year. Jeff Jacobs is playing keyboards; Jason Bonham is on drums and then myself.
And it’s just going to be sporadic shows and not like a set tour?
So what was the crowd response like to WAR & PEACE your last time out and is there any show that stands out in your mind either because of a great performance or particular event?
The response was very, very positive. The thing about WAR & PEACE is that we just have to get out and play in front of more people; we just have to have more people see it. As far as a gig standing out, you know what? I think the gig that stands out most in my mind was at JACKS in Springfield, Virginia. I guess it was in September, I believe. It was just a great show, one of the better crowds and it was just a taste of what it’s going to be like once we get to play in front of a lot of people every night. It was just a wonderful feeling because the band just kicks butt and I think people are really pleased with it. We do a fair amount of DOKKEN songs, we do some LYNCH/PILSON songs, and we do WAR & PEACE songs. So it’s a real nice cross section of tunes and I would just love to do like an opening slot for someone so we can really be seen by some people.
Well, that brings me to my next question…what were the set lists like?
Well, like I said, a lot of DOKKEN, a lot of WAR & PEACE and some LYNCH/PILSON so it was great.
Did you go back into the archives of WAR & PEACE or did you pretty much just stick to the new album?
A little bit, a little bit of the archives of WAR & PEACE songs. Actually, I think we only did one older WAR & PEACE song… most was off the new record. We were doing long sets, though.
We were doing two-hour sets so it was a lot of stuff. We did reach into the archives with some of the DOKKEN stuff. We played a lot of stuff that hadn’t either been played in a long time or not at all.
Now that you’ve toured throughout Europe and the United States, with the metal scene what it is today in the U.S., how much harder is it to build up and establish a fan base in the States as oppose to other parts of the world?
Well, it’s hard when you don’t have major label support, that’s the thing. I do WAR & PEACE for enjoyment. I don’t get to do it full time because I produce bands and I do other things so it’s not really my living…it’s my fun. Consequently, it means we don’t get to go out there as often so it’s going to take longer to build up a real following. We don’t have a major label deal so we’re going to sell it in small quantities here and there. But that’s ok with me because I do just really love it. However, having said that, it would be nice to build it up because I love it and it would be nice to get it to the point where we could go out and do it for real. I think we will, but it is going to take some time. So it is… it’s difficult.
Growing up in the 80’s myself, I am still a huge fan of the metal scene of the time. Unfortunately, it seemed to fade away almost as quickly as it burst into the mainstream. Now with the sad state of American radio and all the old bands getting back together again and still putting out some great music, what do you think it would take to launch the metal industry back into the spotlight again and do you think there is any band that could do it?
I had some hope for VELVET REVOLVER there for a minute. I thought VELVET REVOLVER could, and still may, be able to do it because that record is just brilliant. There are some really great songs on there, great song writing, lots of energy, and it was a very compelling record which is what I think it will take to bring it back into the mainstream. Ultimately though, what I really think is it’s going to take younger bands who are influenced by that kind of music but do it their own way. That’s the only way the metal industry can get back into the mainstream.
It’s still early in 2005. What can we expect to see from Jeff Pilson in the upcoming year?
Well, you’re going to get a live WAR & PEACE CD. You’re going to see a studio CD hopefully by the end of the year. You’ll see some touring with FOREIGNER and I have a couple of different bands that I’ve been producing. One is called BENEDICTUM…well, they’re called BENEDICTUM now, but they may end up changing the name again. (Laughs) But it’s a great band and I’m going to have snippets up on my website. I highly recommend people to go check it out. We have to finish the record and deliver it by May so I am assuming it will be out probably by fall. The singer, Veronica Freeman, is amazing. She sounds a lot like Ronnie Dio…but she’s a chick! (Laughs) Very, very cool…real heavy but real melodic and very interesting music. We got a great response to it, we signed up with Locomotive Records in Europe, and they’re real excited about it so I’m really quite anxious for that one to come out.
Jeff, thank you again so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule and we’re looking forward to seeing you out there again in the future in all of your endeavors.
No, thank you so much man…it’s been great. I appreciate everything and hope we can talk again.
Editor's Note: Read our review of the new War & Peace CD "The Walls Have Eyes".